Today marks the 60th anniversary of the breaking of the color barrier in major league baseball in America. Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. On that day the sport, and the the nation, were changed forever. The complicated nature of race relations in this country were profoundly altered by the courage and skill of one baseball player. But Robinson was more than just a ballplayer. He was a great ballplayer and an even greater man. Inspired by his faith in Christ, and his Christian values, Robinson was willing to suffer immense opposition not just to play ball and be the first black player but to change a game, and through that game, a nation.
Today a number of baseball players wore number 42 to remember Jackie Robinson. Sadly, only 8% of major league players today are African Americans. Blacks play basketball in much greater numbers and over 70% of professional football players are black, exploding the myth that they do not play baseball simply because of the lack of space and money. Gerald Early, writing in Time magazine, suggests that the real reason blacks do not play baseball is "that they don’t want to. They are not attracted to the game. Baseball has little hold on the black imagination, even though it existed as an institution in black life for many years." Baseball tends to be passed from fathers to sons, and now even to daughters (as in my own case). Baseball is built on nostalgia and Americana. Most grow to love the game by going to games with their dad. Adds Early, "For blacks going back into baseball’s past means recalling something called white baseball and something else called black baseball [we even have a Negro Baseball Hall of Fame in Kansas City for this very reason], which was meant to exist under conditions that were inferior to the white version." It is difficult, Early concludes, to "sell African Americans the American past as most Americans have come to know it." It is also difficult to pass along the love of this great game when there are so few fathers passing the game along to their sons and daughters due to the massive breakdown of the black family in America.
I reflected on these observations at the Wheaton Theology Conference this past week when Emergent Village leader Tony Jones admitted that the Emergent movement is almost totally white. But then so are most evangelical churches that are high profile churches in the world of very conservative Christianity. Anyone who thinks race is not still a huge problem, in both the culture and the church, is not living in the real world.
As sad as Don Imus’ comments were earlier this week firing him will not help bring about reconciliation between the races but will even more promote hatred and division. When will we learn to listen, to forgive and to actually seek to understand one another rather than to blame the past, and other people, for the problems we have caused and perpetuated? It seems to me Jackie Robinson day is a great time to recall our sad past and to pray that we can do better in the future. Doing better begins with listening and seeking reconciliation with individuals wherever possible. Who else to lead the way but Christians?